Fatma Qandil Awarded 2022 Mahfouz Medal

On December 11, AUC Press announced the award of the 2022 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature to the Egyptian writer Fatma Qandil for her debut novel Aqfas farigha (Empty Cages).

The award was presented by Dr. Ahmad Dallal, president of the American University in Cairo. The ceremony at AUC’s Oriental Hall on the Tahrir Square Campus was attended by many writers and other distinguished personalities of Egyptian cultural life.

“This is the first time in my life that I’ve ever received a prize,” said Qandil in the opening statement of her acceptance address. “The joy of writing has always been enough for me, but it seems that prizes are delightful in their own way.” Paying tribute to the late Mahfouz for the inspiration and impact his novels had on her life, especially as a teenager, Qandil said: “If I can mention just one of the many lessons I learned from Naguib Mahfouz, it has to be observing people as they are, not as they should be. To see people confused and weak and yearning for the impossible.”

“After many intense and fruitful discussions, we arrived at our decision,” said Dr. Shereen Abouelnaga, one of the members of the Award Committee, in her ceremony address. The selection panel had received 153 submissions for the Naguib Mahfouz Medal this year.

The other committee members included Dr. Thaer Deeb, Dr. Hussein Hammouda, Dr. Dina Heshmat, and Dr. Adam Talib.

In their citation for the award, they described Aqfas farigha as “an unflinchingly honest portrayal of the relationships of violence that lie beneath the surface of an ordinary middle-class Egyptian family; relationships of gendered power,” and went on to say: “In this book, the border between fiction and the biography of individuals and communities dissolves, as do the borders between rhetoric and representation, life-writing and art. The book will make you question the normative boundaries between the biography and the novel and re-examine the definitions of both. . . . Fatma Qandil’s language is sly. As soon as the reader gets close to pinning the work down in a single category, it slips through our fingers. . . . In her rich and dense prose, we catch sight of poignant truths, which encompass both hope and disappointment, the weakness of human character and the struggle to resist it, and the pain and pleasure of discovery. . . . Confidently weaving the reader into the psychological texture of intimate and fraught relationships, Qandil tells a story of womanhood, family, and loss, which will stay with the reader long after the final page.”

Fatma Qandil is an Egyptian author, poet, playwright, and translator. Born in 1958, she is associate professor (emerita) in the Department of Arabic at Helwan University in Cairo and deputy editor-in-chief of Fusul, a magazine of literary criticism. She has published numerous collections of poetry, works of literary criticism, and translations into Arabic, and her work has been translated into many languages worldwide. She currently lives in Cairo, Egypt.

During the award ceremony, AUC Press also celebrated the publication of the English translation of the 2021 winner of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, The Disappearance of Mr. Nobody by Ahmed Taibaoui translated by Jonathan Wright.

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